Friday, 31 May 2013

On lovely strolls home in the evening - and the thoughts they generate...

Such a perfect, blissful sunny day here in Wilts, but strolling home in the evening sunshine, my thoughts turned to poor Kate, separated once again from the great love of her life.  Only a matter of time before loneliness inevitably sees her contemplating the affection of others, yet it brings the deepest sensations of guilt and betrayal... Oh, what is to become of this adorable character...  Let's hope for more sunshine tomorrow...
 "Willow" - The Field Mice - Taken from the album "For Keeps" (1991)

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Promising early chapters, til it starts going on about God! Review of "Quantum Success"

"Quantum Success" - Sandra Anne Taylor - review

Clients often mention they're considering buying a motivational manual and ask me if I've read it, and if so what I think of it. Mostly, my thoughts about these titles are, that the individual who benefits most, is often the writer, particularly in the case of books that are aggressively marketed and have some celebrity or other endorsing them - you all know the titles I'm talking about, right ;-) Indeed!

I'm usually curious though and will look up the title and read reviews, particularly poor reviews, a book's genuine weak points will get picked up by a number of reviewers and say more than the endless list of 5 star reviews where people claim their lives were miraculously turned around even before they finished the manual. "If something seems too good to be true, it probably is", my grandma used to say, and she was the wisest and most content woman I ever knew. And guess what, she never charged anyone for coming to her house and sitting down with a cup of tea and a piece of cake for a good old chat.

Having read the negative reviews, I'll tend not to waste my money on the titles suggested, feeling positive human relationships, and secure attachments to actual people is probably a better way to build lasting self-esteem than abstract teachings from a writer.

But this title didn't seem obviously bad from the outset, so I bought it and thought I'd give it a go. If it turned out to have merit, I'd endorse it to others, if it didn't I wouldn't.

It does have an incredibly positive start and I found it very readable and genuinely interesting. And then I got to Chapter 3, which, after telling me I needed to let go of my attachment to negative powers from my childhood - critical or abusive parents, teachers and others, which, as a therapist myself, I certainly concur with - it started telling me I was a child of God and I should put all my faith in him!

As a humanist, I completely switched off at this point. As a therapist I wondered why the writer didn't think people could fulfil their potential without replacing one set of authority figures, with another. I mean there's a kind of irony in that, right? That's kind of suggesting, something will always have power over you, but if you replace your old "Gods" (parents, teachers, peers etc) with the author's idea of a religious "God", then you'll be on the winning team and you'll never struggle to pay your gas bill again.

"If something seems too good to be true, then it probably is."

I am more of the opinion, that true inner power and self-belief comes from within us, not attachment to religion or these cult-style manuals, which tend to require you to follow the doctrine without ever questioning any of it - very much like a religious cult, and dismissing the people who used to have power over you and replacing them with new leaders whose teachings must be followed (and often practised every day, if you want to remain part of the club).

Life as a human being, isn't abstract, it's very real, very physical, and I believe positive attachments with other human beings you can relate to and learn, over time, to build trust with, is a more genuine - albeit harder and less instant - way to achieve happiness and a sense of being respected and loved. So I'll continue to advise people seeking a more rewarding experience of life, to join local groups and meet people who have similar interests and to build up a friendship network over many months and years.

Though of course, this is just my own opinion :-)

original article on

Thursday, 9 May 2013

All's fair in love and football?

Football can be a cruel mistress... Jose considers going back to the missus...
Ever find yourself daydreaming about the past - those what might have been moments can sometimes haunt us, when we're going through a rocky patch in life, as we long to recapture the security of being loved and appreciated.

This is common when relationships hit challenging times, particularly with relationships which haven't become properly established; little quarrels can bring great distress as our minds go into overdrive, searching for a solution to bring an instant halt to the emotional pain.  We can find ourselves clinging to memories from the past, when we were younger, more attractive, less cynical maybe... the first person we had a crush on... our first lover... the mother or father of our children...  So many blissful moments embedded in our minds, so intoxicatingly beautiful they temporarily make us forget about the other times which weren't so fantastic.  The anxiety, the arguments, the very real reasons which led us to leave those relationships and move onto something better.

And this can happen in our careers too.  If we find ourselves in a job which is futile and thankless and makes us dread getting up every morning, our minds can become preoccupied with a time in the past when things felt much nicer, when we were appreciated.  Human beings are hardwired to love, and to be loved.  Our need for love is probably stronger than the drive to eat, or be safe, or have sex and it's quite natural, when we're feeling deprived of love, to crave it all the more, to regress to a time when that need was being met.

But returning to the ex-wife or the old job seldom solves our problems, in reality.  Usually, we've moved on psychologically, grown up a bit more, and the object of our former affection has moved on too.  Every parting involves loss, and the feelings around the loss are often quite negative: disappointment, regret, anger, loss of trust, loss of respect, loss of love.  That's usually why we went our separate ways.  If things went wrong before, they'll more likely than not, go wrong again, and suddenly we'll experience a heavy dose of reality, old arguments get rekindled all too easily, and a sense of foolishness just exacerbates the humilation we feel.

Jose Mourinho is, without a shadow of a doubt, an exceptional manager any football club would welcome with open arms.

But in football, as in love, going back usually proves to be a mistake...

Monday, 6 May 2013

Brains, Balls and Beauty - 25 fine examples of "thinking woman's crumpet"

OK, OK, from the very outset I should apologise unreservedly for the use of the word "crumpet", I would never wish to offend anyone, and particularly not these wonderful gentlemen who are all admired predominantly for the amazing work they do.  I came across a blog earlier called Thinking Woman's Crumpet, which I confess made me smile and got some of my left leaning female friends pondering.  Here's a small selection of guys, in no particular order, who definitely have brains, balls and beauty.  I think you'll find girls, there's something for everyone here...

  1.Jon Snow  2.Mark Seddon  3.Paul Mason  4.Patrick Butler  5.George Alagiah
 6.Goran Visnjic  7.Charlie Brooker 8.Max Tegmark  9.Colin Murray  10.Alan Rickman
 11.Kevin Maguire  12.Mark Steel  13.Ed Miliband  14.David Tennant  15.Brian Cox
 16.Melvyn Bragg  17.Colin Firth  18.Matthew Amroliwala  19.John Simm   20.Hugh Laurie
 21.Slaven Bilic  22.Richard Armitage  23.Richard Dawkins  24.Robert Newman  25.Mehdi Hasan

Sunday, 5 May 2013

At times of national crisis, the collective psyche tends to regress back to an infantile state and this is why voters flocked to UKIP

To many of us, the rise in the popularity of right wing political party, UKIP, has come as no surprise at all.  In times of national crisis, including financial crisis, the human brain seems to regress due to the loss of a sense of security - financial security, in this case.  Values and behaviours take a step back to a stage in our development before we, as children, felt confident and secure as little individuals, right back to a time when we relied on someone else to meet our basic needs, to do our thinking for us, to keep us safe.

It is generally accepted that the human brain develops from its infantile state, at birth, to relative maturity, by the time the child is three years old; it achieves this largely by internalising the values and behaviours of the community it grows up in.  The infant has no real sense of self, as an individual, until it's about two and a half years old, up until this point, it regards itself as an extention of its main care giver, usually its mother.

This mental and emotional development coincides with physical development, so that the sense of self as an individual being in the world has usually been achieved by the time the child has successfully mastered walking, between two and three years for most children.  Being in control of the physical environment - being able to get away - brings with it, the power to be self governing to some degree, in ways that just aren't possible before this point in our maturity.

So up until the age of around two and a half, a child's emotional world is considerably less mature too.  The developing mind goes through a number of phases, and many of the words psychologists have associated with these stages are in common usage today:  we talk about people being egocentric or self-centred, being insecure and having attachment problems, having anally retentive personalities, having oedipal issues - sibling rivalry and so on.  There is a general understanding that these conditions, these stages in human development, relate to babies who have not matured, who aren't in control of their actions or thinking in the way that we'd expect of emotionally healthy grown adults.

Politicians of every party know all of  this too.

In the late 1970s, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan embarked on a mission to use Freud's theory of child development, specifically to target - in the general public - that level of the psyche where feelings are insecure and the baby is consumed with a fear of annihilation, if its basic needs are not met.  Thatcherism, as a model of capitalism, is based soley on this - the drive to get ones own material needs met, Freud's primary Oral Stage, the selfish infant who has no comprehension of the needs of others.

When people feel emotionally insecure and unable to acheive a level of comfort and reassurance from their human relationships (as a very tiny infant achieves comfort from its mother) they are more likely to seek objects to invest emotional comfort in.  For the child this takes the form of toys, comfort blankets, dummies and so on; in the adult, it's objects we can buy, which lift our self esteem - on a surface level at any rate.  The latest iphone, designer trainers, cars, houses, Jimmy Choo shoes etc (I should write an article about what might be happening emotionally to women who buy those ridiculously high heels they struggle to walk in...) - these are all incredibly emotional purchases, the buyer is looking to feel good about themselves by feeding themselves with these products, which tend to carry status among their peer group.  So Thatcher's objective was very much to tap into people's unconscious sense of insecurity, to encourage her own brand of capitalism and consumerism.  If people rely on their purchases to give them a sense of wellbeing, governments can control that sort of society, and essentially keep the masses quiet by making sure those material needs are met.  In societies where people are less consumer driven and they get more of their sense of self-worth and security from their emotional relationships, within the family, within their local communities, they are less easy to distract and control with products; they are far more likely to group together to hold a government to account.

This was the Thatcher and Reagan agenda and it was incredibly successful - the 1980's particularly, is a decade we associate with greed and excess, a general decline in moral values and a lessening of compassion.   When Tony Blair took power in 1997, people might have expected his focus to be on reestablishing traditional Labour Movement values, such as collectiveness, community and looking out for one another.  Of course that wasn't his philosophy at all, he simply carried on from where Thatcher had left off and New Labour's mechanism for controlling the masses (along with George W Bush) was to tap into the paranoid corners of the psyche and to heighten people's fear of terrorism with an endless stream of legislation (and also physical wars) all designed to reduce our sense of national security, again making us easier to control.

In the UK, there are around 160,000 deaths each year from cancer.  The number of deaths from domestic terrorism are clearly tiny in comparison.  And yet governments invest billions on terrorism prevention - including propaganda to keep reminding us how strong the threat is, but finding a cure for cancer - which will affect one in three of us - is left to a large degree, to charities to try and organise.

Cameron's term in office (and I think it will be limited to just one term) has simply combined Thatcher's obsession with consumerism and Blair's war on terror, with George Osborne's catastrophic economic policy.  Living standards have plummeted for all but the 1% of excessively rich families, and yet people continue to spend their wages and benefit cheques on the latest state of the art mobile phone (or those shoes which hamper walking or ridiculously long false nails which hamper manual dexterity.)  This, combined with the media agenda to demonise sections of society who are portrayed as a burden on the taxpayer, the physically and mentally disabled, the unemployed, people with large families and the immigrant population, has all fed perfectly into UKIPs hands.  The Tories and New Labour created a lack of compassion and paranoia, but offered nothing really to give people a sense of control or even hope.  UKIP has come along with the message that they will sort out the thing causing everyone so much misery - the immigration the tabloid press is obsessed with.  Farage is inviting all these paranoid people struggling to manage their emotions, to attach themselves to him - He'll take control and he'll make them safe and happy again.  Having been discouraged for over thirty years not to think for themselves, not to question authority, of course people flock to him as some sort of answer to their prayers.

Ed Miliband, with his One Nation Labour pledge, is seeking to offer something positive people can attach to again, but, as we see reflected in voting percentages, most people seem to have given up on politics to provide the solution, because politicians have been exposed over the past few years, as largely self-serving, corrupt, out of touch hypocrites.

People are desperately looking for something positive and reassuring to connect with, to attach to and be a part of, but I'm not sure, for the vast majority of us, politics is it.

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Those of us who love to dive into contemporary productions that have depth and emotion and twists and turns, compelling us to keep watching while aching for that climactic conclusion, rarely get a feast as satisfying as "Mayday"

Something has happened to television drama over the last twenty-five years, there's definitely been a dumbing down in the way productions are presented.  Everything from soap operas to crime series and costume dramas, appear more and more, to be written to a formula, because, presumably this guarantees good ratings.  Someone has obviously decided viewers like stories they can flop out on the sofa and watch for fifty minutes without having to think too hard, without developing a personal relationship with protagonists as layers are tantilizingly revealed over a period of time.  So those of us who love to dive into contemporary productions that have depth and emotion and twists and turns, compelling us to keep watching while aching for that climactic conclusion, rarely get a feast as satisfying as "Mayday".

At a surface level, this is the story of the disappearance of beautiful, young Hattie Sutton, due to have been crowned May Queen as part of the local community's pagan parade.  But right from the opening scenes, something feels strange, eerie, reminiscent perhaps of those spooky dramas from the 70s, "The Wicker Man" or those bizarre "Thriller" episodes where creepy things happen in remote villages made up of people who share a very limited gene pool.  In other ways, it's a very contemporary setting and the contrast between these two elements becomes intriguing, like a community operating on two different levels.  Brilliant direction, camera work and score all contribute to this sense of something faintly supernatural, but it's cleverly done, so that we always have one foot very much in the reality of these people's lives.  Like all good thrillers, the suspense is emerging largely from the paranoid corners of our own minds, and that's what makes it so personal, we're investing something of ourselves in these characters and their own personal stories.

The wonderful direction (Brian Welsh) is equally matched by great casting, with many exceptional performances, including Tom Fisher, as Seth, the reclusive, druid-like character who lives in the woods, and Sam Spruell, as Steve, his somewhat ambivalent carer and brother, and self-appointed leader of the search party looking for Hattie.  Lesley Manville, delivers a powerful portrayal of Gail Spicer which takes us through a whole journey of complex emotions, and young actors Leila Mimmack and Max Fowler are remarkably compelling as indie-goth-chick Caitlin and Linus, the loner boy next door, who oozes kudos and from the outset seems wise beyond his years.   All give award worthy performances.  Acting is at its best, I always think, when a peformer can tap into some aspect of a dark character's psyche which the audience will connect with and feel some level of empathy for, and this is achieved in abundance, by the cast of "Mayday".  Each character has a shadow side which leaves us slightly suspicious of them and what they might be capable of, but we also develop compassion for them along the way, as their vulnerable side becomes gradually revealed to us.

The story reaches a thrilling conclusion, which has us guessing right up to the end, and there is the smallest chink of light through a crack in the door, which has the potential to lead to a second series many will be hoping for, because "Mayday" is such a beautifully produced, genuinely original drama.